In contemporary military operations, servicemembers are called on to act as street-level diplomats, negotiators, peacekeepers, law enforcement officers and relief workers. Because their military training, however, focuses primarily on kinetic operations, many servicemembers, especially those junior in age and experience, find these roles unfamiliar and challenging. Most existing training for non-kinetic operations is limited in time and scope and typically emphasizes general familiarization with language and culture, rather than building fundamental skills that enable such specific knowledge to be implemented successfully. While some highly effective military training programs focus on enhancing servicemembers’ capacity to function in non-kinetic social encounters, they tend to be extremely costly and manpower intensive.
The Strategic Social Interaction Modules program (SSIM) seeks to develop innovative, cost-effective methods for training warfighters in the basic human dynamics skills and proficiencies needed to enter into social encounters, regardless of the cultural, linguistic, or other contextual parameters. Rather than developing language and culture-specific knowledge, SSIM focuses on developing unique pedagogical and technological tools for enhancing the fundamental skills and proficiencies necessary for successfully managing and conducting social interaction in which participants do not share a common language, culture, or other set of defining experiences. SSIM-based training aims to enable servicemembers to approach and engage strangers in unfamiliar social environments, orient to unfamiliar patterns of behavior, recover from social errors, de-escalate conflict, integrate tact and tactics, transition in and out of force situations, and engage in the process of discovering and adapting to previously unknown "rules of the game" intrinsic to social engagements.
SSIM research focuses on three major technical areas: the science of social interactions and human dynamics, technological and pedagogical design of training tools for developing human dynamics interaction proficiencies, and assessment of SSIM training and subsequent performance outcomes. SSIM research aims to identify and codify the constitutive elements of successful social interaction skills; to develop a training simulator with virtual social interaction space operating in support of human-based training; and to develop techniques to measure the effectiveness of SSIM training and wider longitudinal outcomes.
At the start of the program, an array of military, law enforcement, academic, and industry experts provided DARPA with insight into the science of human interactions, the training of servicemembers and law enforcement officers, and the development of integrated evaluation techniques for assessing the quality of military and law enforcement interactions with strangers. In addition to developing new knowledge and techniques for the military, SSIM will aim to develop and transition measurement tools for use in training and real-world settings, which will enable researchers, trainers, and organizational leaders to assess social performance and its outcomes and effects.
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